Considering I am an avid follower of cricket, I don’t watch as much live as I would like. This is particularly shameful as I live in a city that has cricket oozing from every pore, but last night I got the chance to rectify that as I attended the second match of the India vs Australia T20 series at the MCG.
The series itself is nothing more than a warm-up for the forthcoming T20 World Cup in March, but with the Indians already one-up in the series, a victory would give them an unassailable lead going into the final game in Sydney. I have seen India once before in a Test match against England at the Oval, and they always bring vociferous fans and a great atmosphere to matches, Last night was no different, with 55,000+ in attendance and they certainly make lot of noise. I have lots of issues with the Indian regime after the Big Three takeover, their power within the game is autocratic and stifles global growth, but there is no denying their fans support their team with pride and have a huge influence on the finances and health of other Test-playing nations,.
The game itself was a bit of an anomaly as the Australians had a new-look side due to resting players and injuries. Three players (Tye, Lyon and Hastings) were making their debuts and other players had little experience in the format.
As it turned out India started their innings slowly, with only 12 runs in the first 3 overs. Rohit Sharma in particular played and missed at a few. But after that, the runs began to flow. I have always admired how players in the T20 format can find their feet so quickly. After this slow start Sharma and Dhawan hit fours and sixes galore, striking the ball cleanly over long-on and showing deft touches to hit boundaries between slip and third man. It took 11 overs to prise one of them out, and this brought the irrepressible Kohli to the crease, who batted with his usual belligerence. Australia only bowled one over of spin in their innings, and Lyon was taken to the cleaners, bowling a waist-high full toss that was called a no-ball, the resulting free hit being dispatched for six. Their bowling otherwise was a little samey. Faulkner has the ability to bowl slower leg-cutters, but the rest relied on line and length. Tye in his first outing did manage to produce some good yorkers at the death and India got up to 187 in the end.
I was looking forward to seeing the Australian chase, especially Glenn Maxwell who is a star in this format. Their reply showed how T20 can turn so quickly. For all intents and purposes the chase was on course as Aaron Finch came out of the blocks like a rocket. I felt his partner Marsh put a lot of pressure on him though, content to run singles to keep Finch on strike. It was the introduction of spin that turned the tables, with Marsh caught in the deep after Dhawan had dropped a sitter the previous delivery. All of a sudden the batsmen looked all at sea, sacrificing their wickets with disdain. I didn’t get to see much of Maxwell as he was very smartly stumped by MS Dhoni for 1, then Watson was brilliantly caught by Jadeja off his own bowling. The game was as good as over when Finch was run out, and he pulled a hamstring in the process. I must confess that we went to the bar for the last couple of overs but caught the wickets on TV, India eventually winning by 28 runs.
So, what did we learn? In terms of future battles, not a lot. Australia’s team for the World T20 will be vastly different. India can put a stranglehold on teams with their spin options, particularly as the tournament is on home turf where the pitches will be helpful. The crowd was excellent, which is to be applauded. My bugbear about such matches having a lack of context still goes on though. Imagine if this was a qualifier for the World T20 instead? How much more exciting it would be with more meaning for the contest. I know this sounds like a grumble, but I really believe it would improve the game beyond measure. Still, an enjoyable night which has reminded me that while writing about cricket is a lot of fun, nothing beats being there.